U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said on a previously scheduled visit to Riyadh that began Sunday, ”It’s quite clear to me that al-Qaida wants to take down the royal family and the government of Saudi Arabia.”
A Saudi Interior Ministry official told the Associated Press that Saturday’s attack in Riyadh was by a suicide car bomber and resembled the May 12 car bombings on three similar compounds in the Saudi capital. Those attacks, also blamed on al-Qaida, killed 35 people, including the nine suicide bombers.
Saudi officials said they would hunt down those behind Saturday’s attack on the Muhaya compound, which is on the outskirts of Riyadh and houses mainly Arab expatriates.
“[The attack is] a sign of desperation and not the sign … of someone who is going to succeed in upsetting the social balance or the political structure of the country,” Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, told Reuters.
Washington has been pressing Saudi Arabia to combat al-Qaida after 15 of the 19 men who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were found to be Saudis.
Al-Qaida, led by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, has long opposed the Saudi royal family and has accused it of being insufficiently Islamic and too close to the West, particularly the United States.
In statements published Sunday on the Web site of the Saudi daily Okaz, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said he could not rule out that the attacks were connected to suspected al-Qaida terrorist cells targeted in recent Saudi sweeps, since a number of suspects from those cells were still at large.
Armitage recognized the Saudi’s stepped up security efforts during his visit to the country.
“From our point of view, the authorities are working 24/7 to try to better the situation,” he said, noting the difficulty was that the security forces must “be right 100 percent of the time and the terrorists only have to be right once.”
Armitage also warned that more strikes could follow.
“I can’t say that last night’s attack was the only or the last attack,” he said. “My view is these al-Qaida terrorists … would prefer to have many such events,” he said.
The compounds for expatriates living in Saudi Arabia, many of whom hold key jobs in the kingdom’s oil industry and military programs, are heavily secured. They are typically enclosed by high walls, monitored by closed circuit television and have additional security provided by soldiers from Saudi Arabia’s national guard.
Saturday’s blast came only days after Western nations issued new terror alerts and Washington closed its missions in the kingdom.
In its latest advisory, the U.S. embassy said Monday it and the consulates in the kingdom will remain closed to the public till further notice. The embassy did relax its restrictions on movement of its employees, saying its personnel and their dependents in Riyadh “are no longer confined to the diplomatic quarter and may move about Riyadh.”
Meanwhile, Saudi forces have killed five Islamist militants in clashes since Nov. 3, when authorities said they had foiled a planned attack on Muslim pilgrims in the holy city of Mecca.
The kingdom’s chief of security, Lt. Gen. Saeed bin Abdullah al-Qahtani, said 4,700 soldiers would be deployed in Mecca to protect pilgrims this year.